For at least the last 20 years, a relentless chorus of immigrant advocacy groups has called on local law enforcement agencies to cease cooperating with federal immigration enforcement offices. Police and sheriffs, they insist, should adopt sanctuary policies because otherwise, immigrants in the community will be too afraid to report victimizations.
State and local governments in California and Massachusetts, and officials in major cities like New York and Chicago, have embraced this narrative and enacted policies prohibiting police officers from telling ICE about criminal aliens they arrest, with the result that most are released back to the streets.
As it turns out, in real life, the immigrants seem to be more afraid of the criminals than they are of the police. According to new data from the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which is considered to be the most authoritative source of data on crime reporting, the so-called “chilling effect” of state-federal cooperation on immigrant crime reporting is apparently a myth.
How do we know? Beginning in 2017, the Department of Justice began collecting information on the citizenship and foreign birth of respondents in the NCVS, making it possible for the first time to use this data to examine crime reporting by immigrants and non-citizens in particular, rather than by ethnicity.
We analyzed the data from 2017 to 2019, the most recent years available. We looked first at the crime reporting rates of immigrant and non-citizen victims compared with native-born victims. We found immigrant victimizations were just a likely, and in some cases more likely, to be reported to the police than crimes against the native-born. For example, 62 percent of all serious crimes against immigrants were reported to police, compared with 53 percent of all serious crimes against native-born Americans.
This was true when looking at violent crimes, serious crimes, property crimes, crimes against women, and crimes against younger immigrants. It was true even for the sub-population of Hispanic non-citizens, a large share of whom prior research indicates are in the country illegally. The relatively high reporting of crimes by immigrant victims indicates that the routine cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities that takes place in most jurisdictions does not suppress the overall rate of crime reporting by immigrants.
The survey also asks victims who say they did not report crimes about the reasons for not reporting. We found that for every major category of crime, only about one percent of immigrant victims who didn’t report it said that it was because they thought the police would be biased, harass them or cause them trouble, or because they were advised not to – which are the responses that would most likely indicate a fear of being referred for deportation.
And what about the “chilling effect” theory, that immigrant crime reporting will decline if police cooperate with ICE? We found no evidence in the survey data to support this theory. According to the survey, the region of the country with the highest crime reporting rates for immigrants was the South, which also happens to include most of the states that have passed anti-sanctuary laws, including Texas, Florida, and South Carolina. The reporting rates for immigrants in the South were significantly higher than in the West, which includes California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and New Mexico, which all have state-wide sanctuary policies.
This data is good news for the vast majority of state and local governments that have resisted pressure to become sanctuaries for criminal aliens. It is a convincing validation of the idea that it is possible to be tough on criminal aliens without alienating the larger immigrant population – who often are the ones being victimized by immigrant criminals.